The Elizabethan Period Of Power

Description of the Elizabethan period of power in English history (1558 to 1603)

The Elizabethan period in England began with the crowning of Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1558 and ended with her death in 1603. It was part of the Tudor Period. The 45 years saw the emergence of England as a world power with international trade links around the world. The country developed the strongest naval force in Europe after its defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and its ships circumnavigated the globe in voyages of exploration. It was a period strongly dominated by Queen Elizabeth herself, a shrewd and talented diplomat who avoided wars and demanded total allegiance from her subjects. She encouraged commerce and brought stability to the nation.

When she was queen, England and Wales were united but Scotland was a separate country. England was an agricultural based country with a population of about three million. Initially here was little money in the treasury but by the end of her reign the country was wealthy, much of this due to the piracy of privateers like Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh who raided foreign shipping for gold.

One of Elizabeth's main internal problems was the constant clash between Catholics and Protestants and getting the Protestant Church of England firmly established in order to counter the authority and power of the Pope. Despite this and other problems like political intrigues and faction fighting, she successfully established a sense of nation in the people, although persecution of Catholics still continued. She became head of the Protestant Church of England.

A cultural flowering during her reign - often called the Golden Age - saw the emergence of talented writers like William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Nashe and Edmund Spence. Theatres, music and poetry flourished, as did art and architecture.

For the upper classes life in Elizabethan England was graceful and sophisticated and heralded a New Age and new visions but for ordinary people it could be harsh. Criminal laws were hard and whippings, pillorying and hangings were common for offences which nowadays would be considered minor. Most people remained illiterate and life expectancy for the poor was short.

Ironically, although England was led by a powerful and famous queen, women in England had few or no rights. Men dominated everything and Elizabeth made no moves for English women's rights. However, as a ruler she dominated everyone with a cold efficiency and political cunning. Her sole concern seemed to be the total retention of her royal power which she achieved through the clever manipulation of men.

Any challenge to her throne was severely punished, as with Queen Mary of Scots who she executed in 1587 after keeping her imprisoned for nearly 20 years. Mary's death was one of many executions during Elizabeth's reign.

Born in 1533 Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry V111 and his second wife Anne Boleyn. Among her various bad points she was noted for a fearful temper. Her many talents included being fluent in English, French, Italian, Latin and Greek and a writer of poetry. She never married and was sometimes referrred to as the Virgin Queen. And she always refused to settle the matter of succession although there was no direct heir.

Consequently, upon her death aged 70 in 1603, James, the son of rival Mary Queen of Scots, became King James 1 of England. Elizabeth's passing also saw the end of the Tudor line and the beginning of the Stuart dynasty.

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